GOVERNMENT will not ban flights to and from China as a way of preventing an outbreak of the novel Coronavirus in Zambia because doing so would amount to social stigma and xenophobia, says Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya.

And Dr Chilufya has insisted that Zambian students in China shall not be repatriated back to Zambia, saying that country’s government has done its best to ensure their safety.

Meanwhile, Dr Chilufya has disclosed that government has set up a K50 million contingency emergency fund to help the country enhance its preparedness for Coronavirus, which has been named COVID-19.

Speaking when he rendered a Ministerial statement to update Parliament on Zambia’s preparedness COVID-19, Wednesday, Dr Chilufya said stopping Chinese nationals from coming to Zambia due to the virus outbreak amounted to social stigma, xenophobia and discrimination, and that it was even an affront to international health regulations.

“We note with concern sentiments attributed to some leaders in the political sphere that we must bar Chinese from travelling to Zambia and vice-versa. Mr Speaker, this is called social stigma, it’s called xenophobia, this is called discrimination and it’s an affront to the international health regulations and must be condemned in the strongest terms. Zambia will operate within the international health guidelines and will follow guidance from the World health Organization (WHO) as it responds to this outbreak. I, therefore, call for unity of purpose as we fight the Coronavirus and this unity of purpose must be evident both at home and globally. Zambia commiserates with China and all countries, globally, that have lost lives due to Coronavirus. Further, Zambia will work with all international partners to ensure that the global and local response is enhanced,” Dr Chilufya said.

But in a follow-up question, leader of Opposition in the House Jack Mwiimbu challenged Dr Chilufya to explain how stopping travel from China and vice-versa amounted to xenophobia.

“Honourable Minister, are you telling us here that all those countries that have banned flights to China in order to protect the spread of the disease are xenophobic? Are you telling us that the Chinese, themselves, who have ensured that there are lock-downs in their towns and cities, people are not travelling, they are xenophobic? Is that what you are telling the nation?” asked Mwiimbu.

In response, Dr Chilufya insisted that statements of travel bans due to a disease were discriminatory in nature and were fuelling social stigma.

“Mr Speaker, I am of the view that the opposition party in question has informed leadership in health that we respect a lot. We are party to the international health regulations and statements made in that manner have a xenophobic tone. Statements that bar complete movements are discriminatory, and stigma is even more dangerous than the virus itself and it is important that we emphasize the importance of unity of purpose. The lock-down that you said is totally different, the lock-down within (China) is an internal control measure and we will not allow in our health diplomacy, a situation where we make reckless statements that border on damaging the work relationship that we have with the Chinese on this outbreak. I emphasize, that statement was misplaced and we do not want to be associated with it. It is discriminatory in nature and it is fueling social stigma,” Dr Chilufya replied.

When reminded in another follow-up question from Mongu Central UPND member of parliament Mwilola Imakando that Zambia was already struggling with lack of financial resources and could not handle the Coronavirus if it broke out and, therefore, it could be prudent to ban flights to China, Dr Chilufya insisted that government would not be “barbaric” in dealing with the viral disease.

“Mr Speaker, xenophobic attacks or statements are not against airplanes or flights, they are against individuals. So, when you state that we should ban Chinese from being with us here, you are making a xenophobic statement. And what we are saying here is that international health regulations dictate that trade restrictions and restrictions of mass movement are not part of an epidemic response at this stage. So, what we are saying here is that, Zambia will not be barbaric in its response and will protect its relationships with international partners and ensure that the response that we mount is evidence-backed. And let me also inform you that, as we speak, there are more new cases of Coronavirus outside China than China itself: Korea is recording cases; Italy is recording many cases…so are we going to ban all these countries? It is not tenable. There are 80 countries today that are recording the COVID-19 infections as we speak today. So, that demand for us to ban Chinese (citizens) has no merit technically or otherwise,” Dr Chilufya argued.

And earlier in his statement, Dr Chilufya announced that government would not be repatriating Zambians studying in China because they were not in danger.

“Our position as government is that we will not repatriate students from China. But we would like to assure the public, the parents and the citizens that the students are very well looked after by the Chinese authorities, the Zambian Embassy in China and we are in constant touch with the authorities to ensure that their welfare is enhanced. Mr Speaker, no Zambian has been suspected of contracting the COVID-19 virus since the outbreak,” Dr Chilufya said.

Meanwhile, Dr Chilufya told the House that government had set up a K50 million contingency emergency fund to help the country enhance its preparedness for Coronavirus.

“His Excellency, President Edgar Lungu summoned an emergency Cabinet meeting yesterday (Tuesday) at which an contingency emergency fund of K50 million was set up to enhance preparedness for Coronavirus. Mr Speaker, Zambia has enhanced surveillance at all its ports of entry and with the set-up of the contingency emergency fund, we will now strengthen response and to ensure that public health security is enhanced. Mr Speaker, the call to action in the response plan that will be enhanced through this emergency fund is as follows: the level of personal hygiene needs to be enhanced and we make a call to all individuals to enhance infection prevention at personal-level by ensuring personal levels of hygiene. We further urge all local authorities to ensure their jurisdictions are cleaned up thoroughly. We further urge individuals who may be having a flu to ensure they cover their mouth and nose as they sneeze. We call upon all managers of public places, work places to ensure hand washing facilities are available at their places of work. We further call upon all associations that operate in congregate setting to ensure presence of sanitizers and hand-washing facilities every time that they are doing what they do,” said Dr Chilufya.